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Trump Pushes to Reopen Schools in Fall 07/08 06:38

   

   (AP) -- President Donald Trump launched an all-out effort pressing state and 
local officials to reopen schools this fall, arguing that some are keeping 
schools closed not because of the risks from the coronavirus pandemic but for 
political reasons.

   "They think it's going to be good for them politically, so they keep the 
schools closed," Trump said Tuesday at a White House discussion on school plans 
for the fall. "No way. We're very much going to put pressure on governors and 
everybody else to open the schools."

   The White House's roundtable gathered health and education leaders from 
across the nation who said schools and colleges are ready to open this fall and 
can do so safely. They argued that the risks of keeping students at home 
outweigh any risks tied to the coronavirus, saying students need access to meal 
programs and mental and behavioral health services.

   "We want to reopen the schools," Trump said. "Everybody wants it. The moms 
want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It's time to do it."

   But that bright outlook was met with skepticism by some beyond the White 
House. The president of the nation's largest education union said Trump is more 
interested in scoring points for the November election than in keeping students 
safe.

   "Trump has proven to be incapable of grasping that people are dying --- that 
more than 130,000 Americans have already died," said Lily Eskelsen Garca, 
president of the National Education Association. "Educators want nothing more 
than to be back in classrooms and on college campuses with our students, but we 
must do it in a way that keeps students, educators and communities safe."

   At the White House event, Trump repeated his claim that Democrats want to 
keep schools closed for political reasons and not health reasons. The 
Republican president made the same claim on Twitter a day before, saying: "They 
think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!"

   Trump offered no evidence for the allegation, which has been criticized by 
health experts who say politicizing the issue will make it harder to work 
toward reopening schools. Jennifer Nuzzo, of Johns Hopkins University's 
COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative, said she was "deeply troubled" by the 
claim.

   "When you make it about politics and just people trying to score points and 
get elected, I mean, I really think it's a disservice to how incredibly 
important this issue is," Nuzzo said in an interview. "And it really distracts 
from what I think we need, which is real solutions and a plan in order to make 
this happen."

   Whether schools and colleges should open this fall and how has been a topic 
of growing debate as the coronavirus continues to surge in parts of the United 
States. Trump applauded Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his state's recent order 
to open public schools this fall. And Trump attacked Harvard University for its 
decision to hold instruction online for the fall term.

   "I think it's ridiculous, I think it's an easy way out and I think they 
ought to be ashamed of themselves, if you want to know the truth," Trump said 
Tuesday.

   The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent mixed signals on the 
issue, saying students should return to the classroom but also noting that 
virtual classes present the lowest risk of COVID-19 spread. Speaking at Trump's 
event, however, the agency's director said unequivocally that it's better for 
students to be in school than at home.

   Dr. Robert Redfield noted that COVID-19 cases tend to be mild in young 
people, adding that the greatest risk is transmission from children to more 
vulnerable populations. He said the CDC encourages all schools to reopen with 
customized plans to minimize the spread of the coronavirus while giving 
students access to school services.

   "It's clear that the greater risk to our society is to have these schools 
close," Redfield said. "Nothing would cause me greater sadness than to see any 
school district or school use our guidance as a reason not to reopen."

   The CDC's guidance for schools recommends that students and teachers wear 
masks "as feasible," spread out desks, stagger schedules, eat meals in 
classrooms instead of the cafeteria, and add physical barriers between bathroom 
sinks.

   Some schools have announced plans to bring students back for only a few days 
a week, an option that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday said was 
unacceptable.

   "It's clear that our nations schools must fully reopen and fully operate 
this school year. Anything short of that robs students, not to mention 
taxpayers, of their future," DeVos said.

   During a call with governors, DeVos slammed plans by Virginia's Fairfax 
County Public Schools to have families decide between fully remote instruction 
or two days a week at school. "A choice of two days per week in the classroom 
is not a choice at all," DeVos said, according to audio of the call obtained by 
The Associated Press.

   DeVos also criticized many schools' attempts at distance education after the 
pandemic prompted them to move classes online last spring. She said she was 
disappointed in schools that "didn't figure out how to serve students or who 
just gave up and didn't try."

   The same thing can't happen again this fall, she said, urging governors to 
play a role in getting schools to reopen.

   Among those joining Trump on Tuesday was the president of the American 
Academy of Pediatrics, which recently issued guidelines suggesting that schools 
aim to start the academic year "physically present in school." Keeping students 
at home can lead to social isolation, the organization said, and prevent 
schools from identifying learning deficits, abuse, depression and other issues.

   Students' mental and emotional health --- along with their parents' --- was 
repeatedly raised in the argument to reopen schools.

   "Children's mental health and social development must be as much of a 
priority as physical health," first lady Melania Trump said at the round-table. 
"The same is true for parents. Many will be forced to make stressful choices 
between caring for their children and going back to work."

   But some are calling for greater caution. Arne Duncan, who served as 
education secretary under former President Barack Obama, has said the focus 
should be on making sure students can return safely.

   "We all want children to go back to school," Duncan said on Twitter. "The 
question is whether we care enough about our children to ALLOW them to go to 
school safely. Our behavior, our commitment to shared sacrifice --- or our 
selfishness --- will determine what happens this fall for kids."

 
 
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